In an industry where mental well-being has often been misconstrued as a weakness, PCL Construction boldly addresses mental health concerns and is deeply committed to understanding the unique challenges faced by its team members. For the company, it’s not just about breaking ground on new projects but breaking the silence on mental health.
For ages, the motto in construction was to “tough it out” and push through long hours, high-pressure situations and challenging environments. Mental health struggles were shoved under the concrete. However, times are changing, and we are recognizing that mental health is just as critical as physical safety on a job site.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a troubling statistic: construction ranks second highest in the U.S. for worker suicide rates, with an alarming 45.3 incidents per 100,000 workers. This is a grave concern that demands the industry’s attention.
In response, PCL joined forces with industry organizations across the U.S., ramping up suicide prevention awareness and placing employee mental health at the forefront of its priorities.
Standing down for mental health awareness: How PCL infuses mental health conversations into daily operations
As the pandemic’s aftershocks impact various industries, PCL is using it as a catalyst to prioritize mental health. From the moment a recruit walks in the door, they are equipped with mental health support. It’s not just about resources; it’s about reshaping conversations and creating an emotionally safe environment. One way PCL does this is by incorporating discussions, known as “toolbox talks,” into the daily work routine, underscoring that such conversations are not only acceptable but essential. These talks educate workers about recognizing signs of distress, understanding mental health issues, and identifying potential suicide risks so they can assist those in need.
Vanna Hosanny, project manager for PCL, elaborates, “It’s easy to get caught up in the productivity of daily tasks while on a project site, but when you have something that has a ripple effect like suicide, it’s important to take a step back. Not only can our physical safety be at risk, but also our mental safety. We need to make sure ourselves, as well as those around us, are mentally whole, happy and healthy.”
In addition to onboarding and “toolbox talks,” PCL’s offices are empowered to support all employees. Leaders such as Cathy Orquiola, PCL’s president, Western U.S., make it their mission to ensure no call for help goes unanswered, embodying a true commitment to employee care.
“I have learned through experience that life can come at you very hard. We don’t know what the person on the other side of a conversation is dealing with outside of work, and it’s always a good idea to offer grace in lieu of starting from a place of expectation,” says Orquiola.
PCL’s California offices partnered with the Associated General Contractors of California (AGC) to hold a “mental health stand down” where operations were halted to take a stand for mental health awareness.
“This stand down wasn’t just a pause in our operations; it was one of the many steps we are taking in our ongoing commitment to prioritize mental wellbeing alongside physical safety,” said Aaron Yohnke, senior vice president of PCL’s California Buildings operations.
The event generated meaningful discussions and fostered a strong sense of unity among team members and jobsites across California offices. By creating a space that encouraged open conversations and destigmatized seeking help, the stand down emphasized the significance of employees’ mental well-being. It shed light on crucial topics such as the value of taking time off, the detrimental effects of long commutes on mental health, and the challenges of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Yohnke went on to say, “I am proud of the honesty, courage and vulnerability our teams collectively demonstrated. This stand down didn’t just net conversation, it brought forth personal stories, shared experiences, and exposure of a challenge we need to tackle together.”
Equipping every employee with access to mental health resources
PCL has reevaluated its existing mental health resources and is launching a new program designed to facilitate employees’ access to mental health professionals and a broader range of resources. These resources will empower all employees, whether salaried or hourly, to develop resilience in coping with stress and adversity. The goal is to equip every team member, from executives to laborers, with skills to weather emotional storms.
Preventing suicide and facing mental health struggles in construction requires a collective effort, beginning with adequate education, support and adopting a nurturing community. Through conversations, training, resources, and comprehensive wellness programs, companies can shatter the silence and demonstrate their commitment to addressing mental health challenges, both within and beyond the job site.